|Problematic: A "tribal woman" in Ninh Bình’s Skull Island. — VNS Photo Việt Thanh|
By Lương Thu Hương
My aspiration to set foot on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster has recently been fulfilled, and I didn’t even have to cross the Pacific.
Instead, I visited the backdrop for Kong: Skull Island, right in Việt Nam’s northern province of Ninh Bình.
Located within Tràng An Eco Tourism Complex, Skull Island was officially opened to public in mid-April and has attracted a huge number of Kong: Skull Island fans.
It took me over an hour to travel 100-kilometre distance from Hà Nội to Tràng An Eco Tourism Complex by car. It was already mid summer so I had to depart early in the morning to arrive at the island before it was too hot and sunny.
It was my third visit to the complex, and also the my most pleasant one. My two previous visits, which coincided with the festive season, left an impression that the complex was too crowded with visitors. I could hardly manage to find a place on a boat.
|Offensive: The "tribal people" use a special brown mixture to darken their skin and have their faces decorated with yellow or blue paint. — VNS Photo Việt Thanh|
This time, I found the area clean, peaceful and abundant with modern service. I might have been lucky, or it might have been empty because it was early in the morning on a non-holiday weekday, but it was fantastic.
Paired with another couple, I got down on a boat and got ready for my journey to the land of Kong. It was mildly sunny with cool breezes. What perfect weather.
What has not changed in my three visits is the stunning beauty of Tràng An. I even find it more beautiful and magnificent than what was portrayed in the movie. What could be better than sailing on crystal green water so transparent that you can see the coral dancing gently on the river floors?
|Strange journey: To reach Skull Island, visitors have to pass through a wooden bridge and a fake World War II-era plane. — VNS Photo Việt Thanh|
My boat journey got more exciting during short trips through various caves containing stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes.
Overwhelmed with this magnificent natural abundance, I understood why the director of Kong: Skull Island, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, chose this world heritage site as a backdrop for his blockbuster.
After a safe and sound hour of sailing, I finally arrived in King Kong’s island, located in a tranquil area amidst the high mountains. In the movie, it was a mysterious island inhabited by strange species, dinosaurs, as well as the home of Kong and a tribe called Iwi that worship Kong.
|Laid in stone: The small path leads to Skull Island. — VNS Photo Việt Thanh|
Following a small path paved with tree barks and crossing a wooden bridge, I encountered a crashed plane, made to look like the one flown by character Hank Marlow, a lieutenant stranded on Skull Island during the Second World War.
Crossing the plane to reach the territory of the Iwi tribe, I was filled with thrill thinking that my favourite movies star, Tom Hiddleston, was there just a couple of months ago.
There are 36 tents made of bamboo on Skull Island, each of which is connected to each other by a small path paved with pieces of stones. Besides each tent are the objects for the daily activities of the tribal people, including farms, earthen ovens, bamboo baskets and frames to dry their food.
All the objects, including the plane or the tents, have been re-made by the local authority with an aim to attract tourists. They are 90 per cent alike the original ones seen on the big screen.
|Hut life: There are 36 bamboo tents on the island. — VNS Photo Việt Thanh|
The most exciting part of discovering Skull Island was the encounter with the “tribal people” there. During weekday, there are about ten people dressing up like Iwi tribe, but at weekends, up to 30 people might show up to welcome guests. All of them are locals and many have really appeared in Kong: Skull Island.
By the time I arrived, the tribal people had just finished their make-up and welcomed me with their warm smiles. They were covered with a special brown mixture to darken their skin, and their faces were decorated with yellow or blue paint. Both women and men dressed up in their unique faded-red or blue costumes. Simple, but impressive.
“We arrived here at 5am. It takes us hours to finish our make-up to welcome visitors to the island,” one “tribal” man named Bạo told me.
Just like Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver, armed with only her camera, I took the chance to wefie with the tribal people. But don’t expect them to smile in the photos, as the indigenous people in the film never smile!
|Kitschy: A basket of "dinosaurs’ bones" on the Skull Island. — VNS Photo Lương Thu Hương|
Seeing more visitors to arrive, the tribal people started to scatter: some of them welcomed their guests in front of the wooden bridge with spears in their hands, while some others gathered around their tents to demonstrate their daily activities, like cooking with earthen oven to cultivating on the farms.
Another interesting group on “Skull Island”--instead of scary giant dinosaurs--is a family of goats with two babies. Seeing them peacefully eat grass by the tents of the tribal people was a treat.
A trip to Skull Island is a must for fans of Kong: Skull Island who are visiting Ninh Bình Province. Don’t be worried, there won’t be a mighty Kong nor scary Skullcrawlers, but the hospitality of “tribal people” and picturesque scenery all around. — VNS